NBC may face FCC roadblock

WASHINGTON — NBC’s effort to go its own way on TV program ratings could run into a roadblock at the Federal Communications Commission, agency chairman Reed Hundt said Wednesday.

During a congressional hearing on another issue Wednesday, Hundt noted that the FCC will soon review the television industry’s revised ratings plan. Because NBC has refused to sign on to the new content code, Hundt told a Senate antitrust subcommittee that he expects the Peacock network to submit a separate proposal to his agency.

“It is logically possible that one (ratings plan) is acceptable and one isn’t,” Hundt told reporters after his testimony. While he refused to comment on the merits of NBC’s decision to break with the rest of the TV industry on the content code, he did tell reporters that “public-interest groups” will want to file comments on the network’s plan to go it alone. Hundt has often used the public-interest community as a stalking horse for his private views.

Hundt also noted that he expects NBC will square off against the rest of the TV industry in a debate over which system is better. “I think the parties themselves are going to engage in a comparison and contrast,” Hundt said.

For their part, the TV industry trade organizations and kidvid groups that signed the ratings deal last week, made it clear that there is only room for one content code in Washington. “The industry and advocacy groups will recommend to the FCC that the MPAA movie rating system and the universal television rating system will be the only systems mandated for inclusion on the V-chip,” they wrote last week. The system is designed to work with a V-chip installed in TV sets that will be able to decode a show’s rating and block its reception.

Network sources say the revised code could be filed at the FCC as early as next week. NBC sources said they were still researching their obligations under the Telecommunications Act. But one web source said that an FCC rejection of the NBC ratings plan could lead to court challenge by the Peacock web.

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